North Carolina governor seeks offshore drilling exemption in Zinke meeting

North Carolina’s governor said he had a good conversation on Saturday with the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, regarding plans to expand drilling for gas and oil off the state’s coast.

Roy Cooper, a Democrat, wants the Republican administration to give him an exemption similar to that offered to the Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott.

Last month, Zinke told Scott Florida’s waters would remain closed under Donald Trump’s five-year plan, which would open 90% of the nation’s offshore reserves to development by private companies.

Interior officials later said Zinke’s promise was not a formal plan and the proposal was still under review.

At least 10 other governors from both parties have asked Zinke to remove their states from plans to expand offshore drilling from the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic and Pacific.

Henry McMaster, the Republican governor of South Carolina, had a meeting on Friday with Zinke, his staff reported. Zinke did not meet with reporters after either meeting.

Cooper said he spent an hour talking to Zinke, telling him drilling could cause unrecoverable damage to the state’s $3bn tourism and fishing industries.

“We told him there is no 100% safe method to drill for oil and gas off the coast, particularly in our area off of North Carolina that sees nor’easters, that sees hurricanes,” Cooper said.

“We don’t call it the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’ for nothing, it would be catastrophic if there were to be an oil spill.

“As we were leaving the meeting I said, ‘Well, we will take the exemption now if you want to give it to us.’ And he did not quite go that far.”

North Carolina’s attorney general, Josh Stein, reminded Zinke the state was ready to sue if the Trump administration approves offshore drilling.

Cooper said he wants more time for the public to speak. Currently, the interior department plans just one public meeting on the proposal in Raleigh. Cooper wants more meetings along the coast in Wilmington, Morehead City and Kill Devil Hills.

The public can also have a say through comments to the department.

“I call on the citizens of North Carolina to be loud about this issue,” Cooper said.

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